YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – While Thanksgiving is a time to feast on turkey and all the fixings, for people with eating disorders, it can bring on anxiety.
A group of Youngstown State University professors spent three years studying eating disorders and how to prevent them.
The study started after the death of Danielle Peters, a YSU student who was just 21 when she died in 2012.
“She was very caring. She liked to help people and rescue animals. She loved her little nephew so much,” said Mary Ann Peters, Danielle’s mother.
Danielle struggled with bulimia and weighed just 90 pounds when she died. Danielle hid her eating disorder, and although her health was declining, she wasn’t diagnosed until shortly before her death.
It was her death that sparked YSU professors to study eating disorders in college students.
The results showed men have a risk of developing an eating disorder, just like women. The big difference is that most men don’t like to talk about it.
The survey showed that men can also feel unsatisfied about their bodies, which leads to disordered eating behavior.
“Male students usually want to be bigger, and they want to have more muscles and leaner structure, because these are the standards that are set by societal standards or media images,” said Taci Turel, associate professor of Fashion and Interior Merchandising at YSU.
Dr. Priscilla Gitimu, coordinator for the Fashion/Interiors Merchandising Program, said it can sometimes be hard to tell that someone is struggling with an eating disorder.
“Studies may differ, but our study didn’t show that. Body mass index is not necessarily an indicator,” she said.
The study started by examining how students eating attitudes were affected by pictures of women in advertising and magazines or how they felt society looked at them and their body appearance. Researchers surveyed 550 male and female students on YSU’s campus for the study.
Turel said at least 13 percent of students were at risk of developing an eating disorder — a surprisingly higher than expected statistic for the researchers.
Dr. Zara Rowlands, coordinator for Didactic Program in Dietetics, said the poor diets of many college student combined with the latest fad diet or cleanse can be a recipe for trouble.
“Sometimes we see students making decisions on what they eat based on looking at social media, but who’s writing what’s on social media?” Rowlands asked.
It becomes a challenge for students to balance body dissatisfaction and possibly appearance-related anxiety. People with an eating disorder can become good at hiding it, but combined with depression, it can even become a mental health issue.
Dr. Jeanine Mincher, coordinator of Dietetics, said to address the issue, it’s important to stop the judgment.
“I think that goes right along with this. When we learn to talk about it, eating disorders… they affect all types of people,” she said.
The researchers have published their findings in the journal “Cogent Psychology,” which they hope healthcare professionals will read so they can see and understand disordered eating and help prevent it.
It may be too late for Mary Ann Peters, who wishes her daughter was still alive, but the research could make a difference in many other people’s lives.
“It’s very important, because I want her life to have meaning by helping other people,” Peters said.
The data from the eating disorder study surprised YSU researchers, so they plan to continue analyzing their surveys.